Bartel Honey Farms Inc.

             A Taste of the Sweet Life


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The Amazing Honey Bee

Q: How many different bees are there?


A: A Honey Bee colonies consist of three different bees (castes);

- The queen bee: usually only one per hive is the only female bee to have fully functional ovaries and can lay up to 2000 eggs per day at a rate of 5-6 per minute during a hives build up period, usually in spring. She will lay about 1000 -1500 per day during the honey production season to maintain a hives numbers, replacing those bees who have died. Between 175000-200000 eggs are laid each year. A queen bee usually lives from two to four years but we have seen queens that are five years old. They lose their ability to maintain the hive numbers after a while so many beekeepers replace them every year or two. Sometimes the hive does this as well when they sense the queen is losing her ability to lay sufficient eggs. They do this by smell. A queen releases pheromones throughout her life which the bees use to identify their queen and hive as well as the state of the queen’s health.  They don't always get it right but neither do we.  When a hive replaces a queen it is called a Supercedure.


- The worker bee: female bees that do the actual work in the hive, from housekeeping and nursing of young brood in the early stages of life to field bees who collect the nectar, which is turned into honey, pollen to use as a protein source in their food and tree sap among other components which they turn into propolis. Propolis is used as a “glue” to seal the hive and it also has disinfectant and antibacterial qualities which help’s the hive maintain a nearly sterile environment.  The worker bees also collect water for the hive. A worker bee lives for about 42 days or six weeks during the build up and honey flow seasons but the bees born in fall seem to have a different biology which allows them to live through the winter to start the early spring build up of the hive.

- The drone: the male bees in the hive which are the only stingless bee in the hive is there only for breeding purposes for future queens although they also seem to add to the general morale of the hive and can be an indicator of a healthy and “happy” hive. Unfortunately they are also the main breeding ground for the Varroa mite which prefers the drone brood for its breeding cycle since the drone spends the most time as a pupae. The drone bee lives through the summer but is of no value to the hive in winter as there is no queen mating during that time so they are un-ceremonially stung to death or forced from the hive to die in the cold.



Q: How do you know how old a queen is?


A:   Many beekeepers and queen breeders use an international marking system where a small dot is painted on the back of the thorax (the middle part between the head and abdomen). There are five colours, one for each year in a five year cycle starting with blue in years ending in 0 or 5 the working through white for years ending in 1 and 6; yellow for years 2 and 7; red for 3 and 8; and green for years ending in 4 or 9.  If you see a queen that has a red dot on her back you would know she was born in 2003 or 2008 etc.



Q: What is Brood?


A:  Brood is the baby bees.  They start as eggs laid by the queen and after about three days they "hatch" and become larvae and begin to feed on the sweet energy rich food the nurse bees have placed in their cell for them. They grow for about six days then the nurse bees put a cap on their cell and they spin a cocoon around themselves. They are now pupae and in their warm cocoon change into a bee like a caterpillar changes into a butterfly.  When they are a fully developed bee about 12 days after they were closed into the cell, or about 21 days after they were laid as an egg, they chew their way out of the cocoon and cell and join the rest of their sisters in the work of the hive.  Queens develop faster than workers taking only 14 days to mature from egg to hatching, while drone bees take the longest at around 24 days.



Q: How many bees are in a colony?

A:  A honey bee colony varies in numbers from 10 000 to 60 000+ bees during the year, and can range much higher in some colonies. In general they have a much smaller number in winter than during the summer honey flow. This is to conserve feed supplies thru the winter. If this number becomes too small they are not able to build up again in spring without our help and sometimes that is not even enough to get them back to the strength they need for summer.


Q: How far can a honey bee fly?

A:  Honey bees fly up to six miles so one hive will cover approximately 113 square miles (182 square km) in its foraging area.  They can fly 15 mph (24 kph) with their wings beating up to 200 times per second.



Q: Is it true that we need honey bees?

A: The honey bee economic impact is measured in billions of dollars annually, and according to the US Department of Agriculture, pollinate approximately 80% of flowering crops constituting 1/3 of all food eaten by humans.



Q: How much honey does a honey bee make?

A:  A single worker bee will visit up to a few thousand flowers per day and produces around 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in its life time while a colony together may visit up to 225 000 flowers per day and can produce 200+ pounds of honey in a single season, some have been recorded as producing around 600 pounds (272 kg) of honey ini one season. That’s a lot of flowers visited.



Q: Do they hibernate?

A:  Not really.  They form a tight cluster when it gets cold and as long as it is a large enough hive they are able to keep themselves warm enough to survive temperatures as cold as -35° celsius (-31° F). A good hive can manage our Manitoba winters with relative ease surviving 20 or more days when the daytime high temperatures are colder than -20 Celsius and nights dropping to -35 or colder.  The bees quickly flex their wing muscles, like flying without moving their wings, to build up their body heat which they share as a cluster and the bees on the outside slowly change places with the bees on the inside of the cluster so they can warm up, often bringing feed with them. The queen stays near the middle of the cluster with the brood.



Q: How warm do they keep the hive?


A:  A hives internal temperature is maintained by the bees at approximately 34° Celsius (93.5° Fahrenheit) for most of the year and even during the winter the inside of their tight cluster is maintained at near this temperature as the small amount of brood (baby bees; eggs, larvae and pupae) needs to keep warm to develop.


If you have other questions feel free to ask us and we will try to get the answers to you or even put them up here. You can also use a web search engine to find many answers as there are a lot of bee information sites out there in the www.

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